After working hard all year, our guys at Stewart-Haas Racing are at last starting to see their efforts pay off with better race results in recent weeks. The No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet has been running well and we're moving up in points after three top-five finishes in a four-race run.
My teammate Ryan Newman had already won at Phoenix, taking Tornados to Victory Lane for the first time, along with the U.S. Army and Haas Automation on the No. 39 Chevrolet. That was a neat deal for his guys, and our guys are glad to be up front consistently again.
The best might be yet to come. When it starts getting hot and humid and the tracks get hot and slippery, that's what we like. When guys can't hold the throttle wide open and they can't just sit there on high-grip tracks – in other words, when they actually have to drive these things – that's when we start getting fast.
Racing on hot, slick asphalt is fun for me, but it's everybody on this team who gets it done and makes it possible to go out and win races and run up front.
We appreciate everybody's work at Stewart-Haas. We started slower than we would have liked this season, but nobody has quit on the deal. We've all just dug deeper, which is hard when you're down like that: it's hard to keep motivated and keep everybody pumped up. And we all kind of have to pat each other on the back and keep each other fired up. I'm as guilty of getting down as anybody, but I'm really proud of this team.
We've had to dig, no question. When you're behind like we were, you've got to just go and do something. You've got to at least try and find something. What you find won't necessarily pertain to what you do at any specific track, but you have to at least try and see if you can find anything – perhaps a characteristic or feel that you like. When you struggle as bad as we did early this year, it definitely wasn't going to hurt to go out and test some ideas, so that's what we did and it worked.
We've got great leadership here with Darian Grubb, Ryan's crew chief Tony Gibson and Bobby Hutchens. The hard part is that you have to do this 36 times a year and it seems like every week you're starting from zero. Once the checkered flag falls, the race is over and we have to start getting ready for next week. We put together a couple of good finishes in a row and everyone likes to start talking about momentum, but there really isn't momentum in racing. Truthfully, it doesn't matter what we did yesterday, last week or two weeks ago. When it comes time to get on the racetrack the next week, we have got to do our job and do it right. Every time.
It's just a situation where you have to go out and keep working each week; trying to make your stuff better and better. Despite what a lot of guys in the media would like you to believe, it's really not any more complicated than that. You just have to keep digging. Every week, we start over on Friday morning and work hard to make our cars as good as they can be and our operation as good as it can be.
We also work really hard to turn what could've been bad days into good ones. At Pocono, we didn't have a great Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet for most of the race. But Darian [Grubb, crew chief] made a great call and brought me in for fuel. A couple of laps later, the yellow came out, but now we were able to stay out of the pits and that sent us all the way from 16th to second, before we got hung up during the last restart and finished third.
There are days like that where you're not proud of how you got there, but you take it anyway because you know that, for every finish you get this way, there's one that gets robbed from you the same way! I wish we had been a top-three car all race long, but you take the good results any way you can get them.
New Hampshire was another race where we kept digging and digging. We didn't get all the fuel in on the first stop so we had to make an extra stop, and that meant that, at one point, we were 33rd and a lap down. But Darian kept me patient, we got the Lucky Dog pass and went on to finish second. That was huge for us. We're looking forward to the rest of the season, for sure. There's a string of tracks coming up – and it started at Pocono – where I'm comfortable because I know that, historically, we've been good at them.
And then before long, the Chase will be here and we want to be ready to win our third Sprint Cup championship and the first for the Stewart-Haas team. To get it done will take everybody doing their best and a lot of hard racing.
Already, you're seeing strategies taking place. For example, if you're one of the top three or four guys right now, all you're worrying about is getting wins. You have that cushion of points so you don't have to worry about failing to make the Chase.
On the other hand, if you're ninth through 12th right now, you're worrying about staying there. That's when you start thinking in terms of consistent finishes, just making sure you have enough points to be in that top 12 when it matters. So, how you drive is basically governed by where you're at in the standings right now.For us at Stewart-Haas Racing, we're just going to do it the same way we do every single race – go out and race as hard as we can and try to put the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet in Victory Lane, and hope Ryan can do likewise with the No. 39 U.S. Army/Tornados/Haas Automation Chevy.
That's how we race every week, and that's what we'll keep on doing.